Things always look better with a bit of sunshine on them, but for Conservatives, there’s extra reason to have a bit of spring in their step this summer.
All governments are judged primarily on their handling of the economy, but it is doubly true during a worldwide economic slump. The last six months have thus been cause for modest celebrations at CCHQ. Unemployment is down, manufacturing output is up, the pound is steady, the deficit is shrinking, and the general mood among the business community is positive. For those who did a little deeper, the picture is not quite for cheery (national and household debt is rising, as is inflation, and much of the new job creation is part time or low skilled), but modern politics is about image and soundbites, and the economic news in 140 characters is good.
Cuts and Welfare Reform
With the exception of those it directly affects and those who are ideologically opposed to Tory policy by default, efforts to reign in State spending are proving increasingly popular. And much to the ire of Labour and the Left in general, Welfare Reform is especially popular with voters.
Rightly or wrongly, Cameron and Co have succeeded in framing the narrative. Labour never managed to make ‘Too Far, Too Fast’ stick, and a critical mass of the voting public, although not in love with the spending cuts, acknowledge that they are necessary. The Tories are tightening their grip on their claim to be the party most trusted to handle the economy, and Labour are still seen as the party of reckless spending.
The current state of the Eurozone and its economies is perfectly balanced for the Tories to make capital out of it. The woes of the currency bloc are in the news just enough to remind voters that things could be worse, but they’re not in the news too much to dampen spirits and cause second thoughts on purchasing or investing. The cost of living in the UK is increasing as wages fail to keep pace with inflation, but Christ, at least we’re not in Greece or Spain!
As counter intuitive as it may seem, a diplomatic spat will help the Tories too. Historically the Conservatives are more trusted on defence and foreign policy issues; when the flags come out, the patriotic Tories reap the benefits. In addition, Spain doesn’t have a leg to stand on in the tiff off over Gibraltar, and William Hague knows full well that as long as neither he nor the Gibraltarians do anything rash Madrid will be forced into a humiliating climb down. Labour will be keen to downplay the reports earlier this year that Tony Blair tried to surrender Gibraltar whilst PM.
Having Ed Miliband as the Leader of the Opposition was always going to make things a little easier, and the last few months have been no exception. The Labour loyalists allowed themselves to think that a few soft wins in safe seat by-elections meant the wider public were on their side. But an anaemic performance in this May’s Local Elections and poll leads hovering around the 5 percent mark show that Team Miliband are failing to resonate outside the Labour Heartlands. Labour are coasting well below what an opposition party should be at mid term.
It would be wrong to say that Cameron and May were responsible for turfing out the odorous Abu Qatada, but they’ve made sure a bit of the shine rubbed off on them. The perennial villain of the tabloid press, Qatatda had, perfectly legally, used taxpayer money to resist efforts by the British authorities to deport him to Jordan. The Qatada case was especially useful for the Tories, as it helped whip up other White Working Class grievances that played into the Tory PR teams hands; Qatada was an immigrant (Subtext: the Tories are tough on immigration where Labour are weak), Qatada was claiming benefits (Subtext: the Tories are tough on benefits where Labour are weak), Qatada was a threat to national security (Subtext: the Tories are tough on security where Labour are weak)…you get the picture
The loose canon of British politics have probably done as much damage as they’re going to do to the Tories, at least for the time being. UKIP’s low hanging Tory fruit was always going to be unabashed Thatcherites, social conservatives, and the most stringent Eurosceptics. Those who were going to defect have probably done so by now. Instead UKIP are looking to attract socially conservative voters in Labour areas, the sort of people who wouldn’t vote Tory if you put a gun to their head, but don’t have an issue with the UKIP brand. Labour know that UKIP’s best parliamentary results come in traditional Labour strongholds, and can no longer take the White Working Class for granted. The policy implications for Labour will be especially interesting. The ideological core of the party could be described European style Social Democrat, yet the grassroots have a very different take on crime, immigration and Europe, all UKIP strong cards.
2015 is of course still a long way. But for the summer of 2013 at least, I imagine it’s good to be a Tory.